I'm not a fashion blogger, but spring and fall tend to be the seasons when I start thinking in depth about my wardrobe, and in particular, about my personal style. It makes sense, I guess, since it's at those times of year that I begin to transition from one set of clothing to the other, and it's a natural time to reevaluate what I have and what I no longer want to wear. I don't have a huge wardrobe, but I have more than enough clothing. I used to buy new clothes all the time, but recently, mostly because of my budget, I've cut it down to a few (or several) times a year. I also used to buy things based mainly on price, and I ended up with some great clothes that way, but the majority of it either wore out too quickly, or I ended up tired of it after a year.
The last few years I've been trying to pick up better quality items, and things that are classic enough that I'll be able to wear them for a long time. The problem is that, if you're someone who was stupid enough to get a humanities PhD, your clothing budget hasn't actually really increased since college. Finding decent clothing you can afford is not easy. The next step up from cheap shit, these days, is cheap shit that's more expensive. For example: J. Crew. I really like how their Tippi sweater looks on me, and it comes in lots of interesting colors. Unfortunately, I've bought five of them over the past 3-4 years, and three of those have ended up with holes in them within a year. So no fucking more. I also bought a very nice pair of their grey Martie pants in January at full price (though with a gift card), and the first time I washed them, the hems at the bottom of both legs fell out. I would be pissed if that had happened to $30 pants, much less a $90 pair.
I'm trying to branch out when it comes to the places I shop for clothing, while also being more particular about what I buy. For a couple of years now, I've felt adrift when it's come to my personal style. When I was in my 20s, I had a pretty strong sense of how I liked to dress, but the kinds of things I wore then just don't feel like me anymore. For instance, I wore a lot of dresses, lots of matchy-matchy colorblocking, bright colors, and graphic prints. Very early-wardrobe-remix-on-Flickr. Here are two outfit photos from 2010 (left) and 2012 (right). For instance, on the left, you can see (maybe) that the necklace matches the dress, the cardigan matches the shoes, and the cami matches the tights. It's a lot.
Obviously these outfits are outdated, but it's not just that. They were me then, but they aren't me now. It's not exactly a dire identity crisis, but as someone who has always been interested in fashion and who felt pretty strongly about presenting herself through her clothing, it's a bit disorienting.
Just buying random articles of clothing that appeal to me has not solved my problem. Just a couple of months ago I bought a lacy black polyester dress with a high collar at H&M, and it's pretty in theory, but I don't know when I'm ever going to wear it. I was a little delirious and desperate, I think.
I've also tried to hone in on my preferred style by adding whatever caught my eye to a Pinterest board, and I ended up with a lot of highly embellished evening gowns, retro skirts and heels, and menswear-inspired outfits. Hardly a coherent style.
Recently I came across a blog post, that I cannot now locate, describing the personal style guide based on body types developed by David Kibbe, the man in the photo at the top of this post who looks like someone you would definitely want dressing you. As you can no doubt tell, his system was published in the 80s. You can find lots of information about it out there, but the basic premise is that you take a quiz where you categorize the shape and size of just about every individual part of your body and it provides a label based on your results, along with recommendations for what styles of clothes will suit you best. You can see a helpfully illustrated version of the quiz here, along with a spreadsheet with all your style recommendations.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of potential problems with a prescriptive body type system that was developed in the 80s. I'm not going to critique it at too much length (though feel free to add your objections in the comments!), but I'll mention a few of them:
1. It's all very femmey. In fact, the more or less feminine you are advised to dress is based on your body shape, despite the fact that there are many reasons people wear gendered clothes other than how big their hands are or how round their hips are.
2. Some people just don't fit well into any of the prescribed categories. For example, proportions are correlated to height in this system, and so there's only one category that's technically for women my height, who are supposed to have an angular and willowy shape. That is really, really not me.
3. Your personality is supposed to be related to your body shape. There's all sorts of woo in there.
4. It's prescriptive. Don't tell me what not to do!
5. It's from the 80s. Ok, maybe I could find some "softly draping, pleated, tapered trousers" if I wanted to, but that's kind of A Look these days, not an everyday pants choice.
Personally, I still found the Kibbe method useful. I got slotted into the Soft Natural category based on my quiz. Now, while I may be soft and squishy, I don't know about natural, and the two words together make me sound like a cuddly hippie rather than the abrasive skeptic that I aspire to me. Nevertheless, most of the recommendations are actually the kinds of clothes that I do like to see myself in. Basically, I'm advised to wear clothes that are a bit flowy/drapey, but defined (not too tightly) at the waist. Somewhat intricate or artsy detail is good, but nothing too fussy. Textured fabrics, no garments that are too structured, assymmetry. Lots of the clothes I already have that I feel good wearing have these qualities: a little drapey, but with a clear waist, not too twee and not too masculine, but a touch of either is ok. I think the key thing to remember is that if there's something that really doesn't appeal to you (drapey pants) or doesn't seem to describe you (being under 5'8"), you can just ignore it. You are smart and you know yourself, so trust your judgement.
My plan now is to go ahead with Mr. Kibbe's prescription for me, and to see if it solves all my life's problems. I have to admit, however, that my first attempt was not a shining success. When the Gap had 40% off recently (like they do today, code TODAY), I ordered two things, one that fit my new Soft Natural persona, and one that didn't, really.
I bought this dress. Flowy! Defined waist! Pretty detail but not too much!
Total disaster. It looked like a sack on me--or at best, a sloppy night gown.
I also bought this shirt, which is absolutely perfect.
I always like boatnecks and stripes, though they don't necessarily fit my prescription. Whatever, I'm not going to give them up. The fabric this shirt is made from is extremely soft, so that's got to count for something.
I'm working on branching out in where I shop. There aren't many (any?) decent thrift shops in my areas, but I live close to a TJ Maxx now, so I should probably spend more time there. I do like the laziness allowed by online shopping, though of course there is that constant threat of spectacular failure, like that dress above. (For instance, I'm constantly tempted by all the dresses from eShakti, but I've had such terrible experiences with what I've bought there in the past that I've all but given up.)
I'd love to hear anything you have to contribute on the topic of personal style and finding quality clothes on a budget. What are your secrets? REVEAL THEM TO ME. If you're a Kibbe expert, you are welcome to correct my self diagnosis--and if you're not, as I said above, feel free to critique the hell out of everything here.
Do you feel like you have a strong personal style? Is it instinctive, or do you follow some set of rules? Have you ever used a "system" to tell you what you should wear, or just to guide you? What are your favorite places to shop for clothes? Why?